The turning of the calendar page brings a social month to Middelmost. It's the moment of the year when time is a product to be harvested, processed, and shared. There is a break between the last of the spring calves and the beginning of the autumn calves; the gardens have calmed down from the spring sprouting; the disasters of the winter have been repaired and the harvest is not quite in full swing. Last Thyme's birthday party was a great start with lots of good food, good wines, and good friends to make a clear statement about the need to maintain an even balance between work and play. To be self-sufficient is one thing - to be isolated is another, and if Middelmost can provide the means and the amenities with which to keep the skills of hospitality, conversation, and laughter fit and well, then I have achieved another segment of a contented life. Last Thyme displayed model manners as enough carrots, apples, equine treats, and gifts, to keep him going until next year's birthday, flowed past the barberry hedge and into the stable. He now considers that people have been placed on the earth for the sole purpose of bearing edibles and, without batting an eyelid he enjoyed cheers, hoorays, applause, and even "Happy Birthday" played to him on a set of bagpipes!
Some of the days last week were of the fierce summer variety with the sun beating mercilessly down at thirty degrees, making a nice change from warding off pneumonia to counteracting heatstroke. Shade has been paramount, as well as cool water, and with the thermometer soaring, troughs need to be very big to remain drinkable or very small and constantly refillable. It's a good idea to pop your hand into your troughs, as you wander about under your sunhat, to test the temperature - most animals hate drinking hot water. The stock watering system at Middelmost is simple. I have several plastic forty-four-gallon drums cut in half which I can move into sunny spots to prevent foot damage in the winter and into shady spots to prevent any cooking during the summer. Refilling the barrels with the hose is a twice-daily task, which I never resent. I know every animal has fresh, clean, cool water offered regularly and it is an easy operation to ensure that the barrel has been rinsed out to prevent the build-up of any unsavoury items. One of the best ways to economise on feeding is to provide top-quality water - especially to dairy cows - as any animal will maximise food intake if it has a constant supply of palatable liquid assisting the digestive process.
Providing animals with an environment to encourage contentment is also another step towards preventing your feed supply from being wasted. Take a commercial dairy herd for instance. The extra fodder needed to compensate for the long distances the herd has to walk to and from the milking shed is phenomenal - not to mention the energy burnt off as the cows constantly flick their tails and twist their heads to chase flies away. These two activities alone would account for a high percentage of energy consumption - energy that should be appearing in the milk vat or, in the case of beef animals, on the weight gain chart. My theory is that a cow should be lying down chewing her cud or standing up eating. When I see a cow standing up, not eating and not chewing her cud I see a cow not maximising the money and effort I have spent putting her food in front of her. The careful management and delivery of the 'contentment factor' can make you huge savings. A happy herd will need less and will provide you with more, letting you either improve production because your available fodder is going further, or to enable you to increase your stocking rate to give you a higher return, or to enable you to decrease your grazing land with the associated shrinking of costs. Either way, keeping animals contented is just as important as keeping them well fed and watered in terms of a financially viable end product. To help keep the cows contented during the hot months of the year, the feeding regime turns around at Middelmost with the girls going into the cool of the forest during the day and then going out into the paddock at night. Also, applying an insect repellent twice a day, when they come in for milking, is not considered a luxury - it's considered an economic essential. I know that the vigilance and effort needed to provide 'contentment' will be repaid with less stress-related illnesses requiring vet bills and, therefore, a greater profit margin at the end of each season.
No matter how small or how big your piece of land is, the 'contentment factor' of that land should be given equal status with the fertilising plans, the fencing schedules, the shelter belt developments, the breeding programmes, and the soil test results. But, unlike the posts and rails and the saplings and the printed nitrogen levels, contentment can't be bought - you have to make it yourself. Contentment must be created, nurtured, and encouraged to blossom. Contentment must be grown in one's own garden. Last Thyme's birthday party reminded me to stop and to be contented with my efforts. This month, it will be part of the harvest at Middelmost as I gather the time needed to sit back and chew my cud a little more often.